American general Ulysses Grant, the Civil War hero who won many battles, is
known to have been an inveterate drunk. When President Lincoln was informed
of his devotion to whiskey, he didn't hesitate: "Tell me what is Grant's
favorite whiskey, so I can recommend it to the other generals". History
honored he boozer yet competent general with an actual brand of scotch.
What a man drinks is not
important. His deeds are important. Drinking is part of the idiosyncrasies
of ordinary people, just like their sex lives. A wave of Puritanism seems
to be taking over the minds of the American people and particularly the American
press. Journalists have been meddling with the personal lives of their leaders
for several decades now.
The accusation of Larry
Rohter, correspondent of the New York Times in Brazil, concerning
the level of ethylic consumption of the Brazilian President comes from the
same kind of journalism that saw in Bill Clinton's sexual practices reasons
for an impeachment. Just between us, our presidents always drank and fornicated
plenty, and no citizen ever lost any sleep over such peculiarities.
This wave of Puritanism
and invasion of privacy is recent and didn't always exist. John Kennedy's
sexual appetite was the subject of folklore and nobody condemned him during
his era. On the contrary, it was part of his charm. Besides advancing on secretaries,
interns and even visitors to the White House, he also had some professionals
on shift for moments of urgency.
Here in Brazil, everyone
knew about João Goulart's taste for prostitutes and Jânio Quadros'
love of scotch. We also had a Minister, economist Mário Simonsen, whose
appreciation for good liquor was as notorious as his knowledge about opera.
These were extremely personal
habits and they were nobody's business. Still, the press was prodigal in jokes
concerning both Jânio and Simonsen and neither ever thought of suing
or ousting any journalists from the country.
Boris Ieltsin became famous
in the international press as an inveterate alcoholic but never expelled any
journalist from Moscow on that account. There are those who actually believe
that the hard-kicked cannonball that hit the Duma, making the old guard of
the soviet Communist Party give up on any whim of resistance, would not have
occurred at all if it were not for the high vodka content in Ieltsin's veins.
At the end of his administration,
Fernando Henrique Cardoso was accused of having a child with a journalist
from the Globo network, who supposedly lived abroad. Caros Amigos,
the magazine that made the accusation sent a correspondent to Barcelona to
unveil the mystery.
The journalist brought
back an irrefutable proof of the child's existence: when he called the alleged
mother on the phone, he heard a child's voice in the background. What the
president was trying to hide was now proved to be true.
The proof was the child's
voice in the background, heard over the telephone line. To the disappointment
of the astute journalist, Fernando Henrique did what he should have done:
nothing. The accusation, with or without grounds, fell empty.
Having been touched on
a spot that seems to leave him very sore, Lula gave international repercussion
to something that would have been left unnoticed if it weren't for his besta
fera (ferocious beast) type reaction.
Digging out a decrepit
law from the times of the dictatorship against which he says he fought, he
expels the correspondent from the country. Ironically, he was using the same
law that the military used to expel from Brazil, back in 1980, an Italian
apparatchik, Father Vito Miracapillo.
If his reputation as an
obstinate drunkard was until now restricted to Brazil, now Lula has managed
to release it urbi et orbi. The story appeared in approximately forty newspapers
in the West and also in China and in the Arab world. Not even celebrated adman
Duda Mendonça could have orchestrated such a performance.
Domestically, the scandal
came in good time. In the midst of the total state of misadministration of
this administration, the press suspended for a week all their talk about the
total disregard of the sem-terra and sem-teto (landless and
homeless) for the law, about the Bantustans in Rio where the State no longer
rules, about the Indians who massacred tens of whites and remain unpunished,
and about the ridiculous increase in the minimum salary, in order to get busy
with presidential drinking binges.
The first line of defense
from His Highness, who was hurting, was to identify himself before the nation.
According to his crude vision of the world, the journalist had offended not
the President but the country. Le Brésil c'est moiwas
what he said, in other words.
Well, the country of cachaça
would never take such a statement as an offense. And here is the first
mistake from the American journalist, to judge that this country cares about
the ethylic habits of the President.
These habits have been
known from his prior attempts to hold office, before running for President.
His election is definitive proof that Brazilians never cared about this. Another
mistake was to think that the gaffes committed by Lula are the effects of
Lula should be thankful
for such a statement because it only brings him favor. For the first time,
his folly is attributed not to his atrocious unenlightment but to an occasional
factorhis ethylic exhalations.
Equally illogical is the
insinuation by Rohter that the President's predilection for hard liquor may
be affecting his performance at the helm of the country. There is nothing
even resembling the erratic steps of a drunk in the Lula administration.
In order to ensure the
perpetuity of the petista Nomenklatura, it has actually advanced with
considerable logic and coherence into the pockets of taxpayers. First it cheated
pension holders out of 30 percent of their pensions, now it is trying to cheat
another 11 percent out of retirees in general and it's already thinking about
increasing the income tax to 35 percent.
This is not a drunken
spree. Instead, it shows crystal clear determination from people who want
to stay in power at the cost of the impoverishment of the middle class. What
we face is not a bateau ivre floating adrift, but a ship with a very
History of Drinking
Lula says he was particularly
offended with the reference made by Rohter to the ethylic problems of his
father. Now he wishes he had not said a word. Last Sunday both Veja and
Folha de S. Paulo published demolishing stories that extend the alcoholism
of the Silvas two generations back.
"My father always
dranksays one of the President's brothers. He drank pinga. Then
he changed to cognac, which was better. Then he changed to beer, which was
better. If he had the chance to drink fifty pingas, he would. He had
no control. He used to get home very high."
About his maternal grandmother,
Lula himself has said: "My granny, poor thing, drank a great deal",
he regrets. "How many times my brothers had to go get her, sleeping in
the bushes, on the road, on the edge of the pavement. [...] She drank a lot,
These statements are in
the book LulaO Filho do Brasil (LulaBrazil's Son),
by journalist Denise Paraná, which was put together based on testimonies
from Lula and his family members.
The press was also showered
with emphatic declarations of love by Lula to alcohol. There are those saying
that Rohter's report is inconsistent as far as the President's alcoholism
The fact is that Rohter
did not research deeply enough. Among the tens of statements published, let
me pull out just two. In 1978, asked by underground newspaper Pasquim
about his recent preference for scotch, he said:
"Listen, if you had
a bottle of 51 cachaça right here, I would drink two times the
amount of this whiskey. I drink whatever is available, you know... but in
my office at the union, we open bottles of 51."
And this other one, definitive,
extracted from the testimony given to Denise Paraná:
"Here's the truth:
politics is like a good cachaça. You take the first shot and
that's it, you can't stop, only when the bottle is empty."
A conclusive confession
from a rough drinker, able to gulp down a whole bottle of cachaça.
Will Lula oust Lula from Brazil?
The whole imbroglio ended
worse than it started, with a shameless farce. For reasons of a legal nature,
the government was unable to stand by its decision. Due to his own foolish
doggedness, Lula could not step back.
To save face, he decided
to interpret as a retraction from the NYT correspondent a letter
in which the journalist retracts nothing whatsoever. His newspaper even reiterated
that they were not apologizing or retracting.
The episode had a healthy
overtone. The project of a petty tyrant who had been hiding under a democrat's
mantle showed his claws for the whole world to see.
Janer Cristaldohe holds a PhD from University of Paris, Sorbonneis
an author, translator, lawyer, philosopher and journalist and lives in São
Paulo. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Tereza Braga. Braga is a freelance Portuguese translator and interpreter
based in Dallas. She is an accredited member of the American Translators
Association. Contact: email@example.com.